Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tokens Will Not Solve Erasure

This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.

After the much reported homophobia in YA fiction (or, should I say, after the long term homophobia in YA fiction's publishing became noticed and more shouted about) following 2 authors being called upon to de-gay their story there has been a lot of talk about it. A lot of people expressing outrage at the erasure of GBLT characters from YA – and especially the utter wrongness of publishers demanding that GBLT characters be removed or made straight before publishing.

Many things have arisen out of this – not least of which is a lot of authors coming forward with their own stories of publisher demands and erasure. It's good to see some attention being paid and hopefully we can see some changes.

A one thing that has arisen is book lists. Lists of YA books with GBLT characters as protagonists. I approached the lists with – ok, not glee because I'm far too cynical for that now. But cautious optimism and certainly a hope to increase my reading lists.

And then I looked at some of the lists and... was saddened

Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments. Aside from the fact I found these books extremely homophobic, I boggle at the idea that you can consider Alec to be a main character of the books. He barely even qualifies as a side-kick.
And Ann McCaffrey? Seriously – Ann “Tent peg” McCaffrey is presented as a RECOMMENED GBLT YA. The gross stereotypes, the demeaning, insulting portrayals, the condescension – and even then out of the whole series, the gay characters cannot be more than the smallest, most minor of bit characters.

And Terry Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment? Don't get me wrong, I love that book – but to call the 2 lesbians in that book anything close to main characters is ludicrous. Or George RR Martin's epic – is there really enough GBL characters there to justify more than a footnote?

And this is what depresses me – because these are apparently a list of good portrayals of main GBLT characters – compiled by people who are apparently upset by the exclusion of GBLT characters from YA fiction. And this is what we can come up with? These are what we celebrate? It honestly makes me leery of checking the other books on the list I haven't read because the standards are so low.

To say nothing of the number of books that come with the note “this has an awesome supporting character”. Supporting. This is what we're going to recommend? Side-kicks ahoy! No, some of these aren't even side-kicks. But we list them as “major characters” because ZOMG there actually IS ONE! Mentioned in passing, or hanging around in the background – but wow we're there! Totally counts, right?

Why do we demand so little? Have we become so unable to hope for more that we this is the best we can do? That we can celebrate these inclusions without a word on how questionable they are? 

We don't just need supporting casts. We don't need best friends and side-kicks and servants and tools and tokens. Is it too much to ask to have a GBLT protagonist? For our youth to pick up a YA book and see that THEY are the hero. Not the heroes best friend. Not the heroes side-kick. Not the person who dies horribly allowing the hero to grow as a person. Not the person who help the hero, supports the hero, talks to the hero, advises the hero, provides services to the hero or is just hanging around in the background being fierce and sassy while the hero does their thing.

GBLT people deserve to have our stories told. We deserve to have the stories be about us. And our youth deserves to think they can be the centre of the story – not a side-line or helper or supporting cast in someone else's tale. No, they, we, deserve to be centre stage as well.